In an effort to widen my horizon in 2017, I tried making it a priority to read works mostly about topics of which I have little personal experience and/or written by authors of a different culture, race, or religion than I have. Even with different backgrounds, I have found various commonalities and similar experiences that I had never considered before. It was an eye opening experience, and though I’m still a few books shy of my reading goal for the year, I think it has served its purpose and will be one I continue into 2018.
Last night, I finished Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I had recently read that it was being made into a movie, and I also knew that it won the Morris Award back in 2016 and was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2015. Another appealing aspect of this book was that it occurred to me that I could recall reading only one other book narrated by a character in the LGBTQ community (Luna by Julie Ann Peters, a National Book Award finalist, 2004), so I grabbed the book from my local library and settled in.
As far as the book itself, it was an enjoyable, fast read. It centers around Simon, a high school junior in a small(ish) Georgia town, who hasn’t yet come out to his friends or family. Meanwhile, he has an online relationship with another boy from his school, whose identity remains a mystery to Simon. It’s not until Simon is found out by a fellow classmate, who blackmails him in order to get a date with the new girl in town, that Simon is forced to decide whether or not to come out on his own terms or to have himself (and maybe even his mysterious online boyfriend) outted by the blackmail jerk.
A couple of issues I had with the book are pretty basic:
- Simon’s experience isn’t the norm.
I fear that those who are preparing to come out and read this book will get a false sense of confidence that their experience will be like Simon’s. Let me be clear, Simon doesn’t come away unscathed, but as a person who has worked closely with teens over a pretty lengthy span of time, I can tell you just how vicious they can be, not to mention the stories of teens and young adults who come out and lose most of the people who had supported them their whole lives. It’s an unpredictable, scary situation, which is why it’s such a brave act when one does choose to come out.
- It’s wrapped up pretty nicely at the end, when we all know that’s not real life.
While there may be advantages to making everything tidy and nice at the end of a novel like this, this is one of my major complaints with any book that I read. I get that the reader needs closure, but closure rarely equates to happy endings. In real life, there are frayed ends left dangling and relationships that don’t heal, at least for awhile, and I think it’s okay for stories to leave some things undone, too. Books can fall into many different categories, a couple of which are fluff fiction and stories with teeth and meaning. This had the potential to be the latter, but sort of fell a bit short for me at the end.
In some respects, Albertalli’s book title is combatting against those two issues I had with the book. Maybe she’s trying to show what could be/should be for teens when they come out. And if that’s the case, then, well, mission accomplished, lady. Kudos to you.
But I think the title of the book is more of her way at taking aim at inequality of the social and societal norms for the LGBTQ community. At one point Simon says, “Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever.” He later adds regarding race, “White shouldn’t be the default anymore than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.” When there is a default, there is a scary under layer for All Other Things, and that’s precisely what we are seeing in today’s world. I won’t get too political in this book review, but it’s easy to see. All you have to do is turn on the news.
This book is an enjoyable read; it was fun to try to guess who Simon’s mysterious boyfriend is, and there are some great messages in the book. Go on and get reading.